Nathanial Hawthorne’s infamous story “The Birthmark” tells the tale of a scientist, Aylmer, who will go to any length to remove the birthmark that is on his wife’s cheek. Although the mark is physically placed on Georgiana, the wife’s, face, the reader could potentially argue that the birthmark has been interiorly placed on Aylmer’s soul as a reminder of his human nature. In the beginning of the story, Aylmer believes Georgiana to be aesthetically perfect, but not long after they are wed, he begins to see the birthmark as disturbing, reminding him, that no one, not even his wife, is perfect. Aylmer starts to perceive the red hand on her cheek as a vision of the human soul striving to live, evoking him to reflect upon his eminent death. The reader will note throughout the story that Aylmer takes pride in his intelligence, almost to the point of believing he is a greater creature. The mark becomes a daily expression of the fact that he is a mere human and cannot find an answer to everything. Just as the birthmark is a reminder for Aylmer, it is a symbol to the reader of human imperfection, mortality, and the unknown.
Aylmer states that the birthmark upon his wife’s face is “a visible mark of earthly imperfection,” introducing the realization no one is without fault (Hawthorne 11). Nathaniel Hawthorne uses this story to emphasize the human tendency to idealize another person. Just as Aylmer, in the beginning of the tale, believes Georgiana to be aesthetically perfect, people tend to imagine the ones they love to be without flaws. Once they have spent enough time with that person, they realize that he or she is not the perfect person they had created them to be. This often results in the end of a relationship. Aylmer reacts in a similar way to the birthmark, “if the birthmark did not heighten their admiration, they contented themselves by wishing it away that the world might possess one living specimen of ideal loveliness without the semblance of a flaw.” but Aylmer goes beyond just “wishing it away” (Hawthorne 11). He believes that he has the power to remove it, and he will go to any lengths to do so, even if it means the death of Georgiana.
The red hand on Georgiana’s face does not only remind Aylmer of human sinfulness, but also of the reality of the inevitable death which no man can escape. The majority of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories in some way represent the fear of mortality. Aylmer is an intelligent scientist who has almost convinced himself that he is above the rest of human nature. He has even created a concoction that he believes “should prolong life for years, perhaps interminably” (Hawthorne 17). Because of the mark on his wife’s cheek, he now has to awake every morning to “the spectral hand that wrote mortality where he would fain have worshipped” (Hawthorne 12). A daily reminder that even he is destined to die. Hawthorne digs deep into the human conscious in this story, presenting to the reader the reality that all humans subconsciously fear death.
Nathaniel Hawthorne evokes another hidden disturbance of humanity in this short story, the reality of the unknown. Aylmer is a scientist who refuses to admit his mistakes and the fact that there are many things he does not know. The birthmark emphasizes the fact that there are somethings we cannot comprehend. Just like all humans, Aylmer chooses to ignore the fact “that our creative Mother, while she amuses us with apparently working in the broadest sunshine, is yet severely careful to keep her own secrets, and, in spite of her pretended openness, to show us nothing but results” (Hawthorne 14). He has such a passionate desire to be all-knowing that he almost believes he is. He thinks that he can remove the birthmark from his wife’s face, creating the perfect being, but nature “permits us, indeed, to mar, but seldom to mend, and, like a jealous patentee, on no account to make” (Hawthorne 14). His naivety of this truth is the ultimate cause of Georgiana’s death. Although, in the end, he removes the birthmark, in the process he kills his wife. A blatant message to the reader and Aylmer that there are some things we cannot control because there are many things we are unable to know.
The birthmark on Georgiana’s cheek disturbs Aylmer because it is a daily reminder of the fact that he too is a mere mortal that is sinful, going to die, and will never be all-knowing. In this story, Nathaniel Hawthorne emphasizes that the birthmark is Georgiana’s one imperfection. This clear statement means that no matter how perfect someone may seem, they are human and therefore, are flawed. He goes even further into the truths of human nature by making the birthmark Georgiana’s life line. Once it is removed, she is dead. Finally, Hawthorne emphasizes the truth that man will forever be left in the unknown, and when he tries to escape it, disaster occurs. Before her death, Georgiana cries, “you have rejected the best the earth could offer,” a message to the reader, just as much as to Aylmer, that the world is an imperfect place, and one should not believe that he has the power to make it perfect (Hawthorne 23).